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Outdoor Recreation

Hike the Appalachian Trail Through Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Get a taste for the trail by hiking the section that bisects the park

The Appalachian Trail (AT), one of our nation’s most spectacular hiking trails. It travels 72 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park following the Tennessee-North Carolina border bisecting the park. It’s a spectacular place to get a taste of the AT before you commit to the idea of hiking the entire trail’s 2,181 miles from Georgia to Maine.

Appalachian Trail route through Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Appalachian Trail route through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hugging the state border. NPS Map

On the southwest end, where most Appalachian Trail hikers start, the trail crosses into the park at Fontana Dam, ascends up to its highest point at Clingmans Dome and back down in elevation in the northeast area of the park where it exits at Davenport Gap. Along the way, the trail only crosses one road at Newfound Gap near the center of the park. After you exit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, head to the nearby town of Hot Springs for a nice soak after the hike.

It takes an average of seven days to hike the full route, or you can start midway at Newfound Gap to reduce the distance by half.

Rhododendron bushes line the Appalachian Trail as is wanders through Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Rhododendron bushes line the Appalachian Trail as is wanders through Great Smoky Mountains National ParkDepositphotos

Where are the Appalachian Trail Camping Shelters in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Great Smoky backcountry hikers are required to camp only in designated campsites or at one of the 12 Appalachian Trail shelters in the park. Since the shelters have recently been refurbished, many now have moldering privies and water sources nearby. The chain-link bear fences have been removed so be sure to cook and eat far from the shelters to keep bears away.

The shelters include, starting from Fontana Dam, with about half the shelters each on the North Carolina and Tennessee sides of the trail.

  • Mollies Ridge
  • Russell Field
  • Spence Field
  • Derrick Knob
  • Silers Bald
  • Double Spring Gap
  • Mount Collins
  • Icewater Spring
  • Pecks Corner
  • Tricorner Knob
  • Cosby Knob
  • Davenport Gap

Reservations are required for Great Smoky AT shelters. To qualify for an AT Thru-Hiker Permit, you must begin and end your hike at least 50 miles outside of the national park and only travel on the AT in the park. Hikers not meeting this definition should apply for a General Backcountry Permit. For trip planning help, call the backcountry office at 865-436-1297. Don’t get caught without a permit; the fines are steep.

Need a map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Great Smoky at REI.com. The map includes trails, trailheads, points of interest, campgrounds, geologic history and much more printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.